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Del. Robert A. McKee proposed a single government with authority over Hagerstown and Washington County

Del. Robert A. McKee proposed a single government with authority over Hagerstown and Washington County

April 23, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Del. Robert A. McKee on Tuesday suggested eliminating the city of Hagerstown's government in favor of a single countywide government.

McKee's comment was made at Tuesday morning's annual post-legislative forum of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

The comment generated a debate that some said is necessary in light of the ongoing disagreements between the two governments.

Responding to questions about how the state plans to help local governments, McKee, R-Washington, asked whether it is necessary to have two competing governments.

The idea was first proposed by businessman Dick Phoebus three or four years ago, McKee told about 100 people at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center at Antietam Creek.

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It's not an unprecedented idea. Baltimore and Howard counties don't have any municipalities, said Miles Cole, a lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said it may be time to discuss creating a countywide water and sewer authority since the city and county can't agree on who will serve new customers.

Combining the two governments could provide economies of scale and resolve tensions between the city and county related to growth policies, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Elected officials owe it to the citizens to provide the most cost-effective government, he said.

"At the very least, we owe it to our constituents to go down that road," Shank said.

Previous efforts to combine city services have not been successful, he said, citing the fact that city and county government officials have been exploring joining their permits office since 1978.

Near the end of the breakfast meeting, Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner asked to be recognized.

He said little money would be saved by the merger of the permitting offices, but the two governments are working to join computer systems to make the process more convenient for businesses.

County officials did not attend because they had a previously scheduled employee appreciation breakfast.

Del. Richard Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, said debating the idea is healthy, but he believes the city can most efficiently deliver government services.

"I would urge great caution as we embark down this path. The unintended consequences could be catastrophic," he said.

Lawmakers also gave a chilly reception to the idea of changing the county's commission form of government.

The Washington County League of Women Voters has asked the County Commissioners to support a referendum on the idea of code home rule.

It would allow county officials to handle routine law changes themselves instead of seeking authority from the Maryland General Assembly.

Education, taxes, gambling and liquor issues still would be handled by the state legislature.

Shank pointed out that code home rule could complicate things. The county would have to get another code home rule county to join them in any state legislation that is needed, he said.

Weldon said a similar referendum was resoundingly defeated in Frederick County last year.




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